The question I used to be asked most often was “How long should I spend teaching a trait?” It’s been surpassed, handily. Nowadays, the BIG question is this: “Do the traits connect to the Common Core Standards for Writing–and if so, how?” The answer in a nutshell is yes they do indeed–in many ways.
Check out www.corestandards.org if you have not done so already, and click on Anchor Standards–you’ll want to look at both writing and language to get the full picture. Under writing you will see heavy emphasis on the two foundational traits: development of ideas (more simply known as ideas), and organization–especially under standards 1, 2, and 3, which identify the three genres of focus (narrative, persuasive writing or argument, and informative/explanatory writing). We shouldn’t be surprised. Ideas and organization are the heart and soul of the six traits. It’s no secret that if you can write clearly and organize information (in a poem, story, essay, memoir, analysis, lab report, etc.) so that it’s easy to follow, you have much of the writing battle won. There are many more trait connections–but they’re more subtle and you’ll have to dig a bit. By which I mean that the language of the Standards is not always an exact match with the language of the traits. Often the concepts are the same, though–and that’s the key.
The Core Standards never mention voice outright, for example. (More on this later.) But they do mention style (See writing standard 4). Style is an umbrella term that in trait language encompasses voice, word choice, and sentence fluency. They all work together. Notice that standard 4 also suggests that the style should be appropriate to “task, purpose, and audience.” This ability to adjust style to fit context–and to write in a way that reaches an audience–is definitely a component of voice. Take a deep breath and check out standard 5. Now there’s an expansive expectation. We’re covering a lot of territory here: all components of writing process (save sharing, which is not explicitly mentioned) plus courage. I say courage because that’s what it takes to start over with a “new approach.” Revision (standard 5) encompasses every trait with the exception of conventions & presentation. That trait connects to editing (standard 5) and publishing. Note that publishing (including use of technology) is covered in standard 6. In short, because the standards emphasize process (though they call it “Production and Distribution”), the trait connection is very strong–because the whole underlying purpose in even teaching the traits in the first place is to help students become competent, confident revisers. There’s still more, though.
Standards 7, 8, and 9 cover research, which is the location, analysis, and selection of information to share through writing. That links primarily to the trait of ideas (which is, after all, the informational trait). Research has a good deal to do with organization as well, however, because good organization starts with making choices–picking one detail over another. You cannot tell everything about a given topic–so some things wind up on the cutting room floor. People who struggle with choices are usually the same people who struggle to organize their writing.
Finally, note standard 10, which covers writing for two broad purposes: (1) over time, reflectively and with, perhaps, multiple opportunities for revision, and (2) on-demand. Both call for skillful application of all traits, but reflective writing cycles us right back to standards 4, 5, and 6 (For “Production and Distribution” just read “Writing Process”).
The language standards emphasize conventions (1 and 2) and vocabulary acquisition–or word choice (4, 5, and 6). Notice that language standard 3 again references style. Interesting because in workshops (and in Creating Writers), we always talk about the many ways in which voice and word choice influence and strengthen each other.
In summary, the Common Core Standards do not even begin to cover all the nuances of the traits (particularly with respect to voice), but connections abound. And those connections are embedded in skills, such as developing ideas or organizing information; in process, through revision, editing, and publishing; in research–because it has to do with the assembly and management of information; and finally, in “range of writing,” (think purpose) because purpose determines whether traits will be applied hastily (as in response to a writing prompt) or over time, through revision of more complex writing such as a story, novel, report, analysis, or contract.
Come back tomorrow. I’ll be announcing a new book.